As the van dragged its way onward down the road, the atmosphere slowly retreated. The girls kept singing, but they got quieter as the music got less enthusiastic. Eventually they were just chatting their way down the motorway, planning their holiday between themselves. Tristan's music was still too loud to hear them. Or correct them.
Zangi squealed loudly as they passed a sign advertising somewhere she’d always wanted to go.
“Warner Bros Studio Tour!” she cried, “Wizarding world of Harry Potter! Let’s stop!
Zangi nudged Tristian until he took out one headphone.
“What?” he sighed.
“Can we stop?!” she asked hopefully.
“What for?” he asked.
“The wizarding world of Harry Potter,” Zangi said.
“Slytherin pride,” Tiana grinned.
“Slytherin sucks,” Zangi said.
“Shut your Gryffindor hole,” Tiana gasped.
Zangi poked her tongue out at Tiana, childishly. Tiana blew a raspberry at her. Even Tahati rolled her eyes.
“No. We have a schedule to keep to. There’s no time to detour,” Tristan stated firmly.
“But-” Tahati began.
“No,” Tristian repeated, firmer.
Tahati sat up straight in surprise. She looked helplessly at Tiana. Tiana frowned.
“How long till we do stop?” she asked.
“Not long,” Tristian lied.
They carried on driving for ages. Just as Simi was beginning to get bored, she spotted a welcome sign to something she found interesting.
“A go-kart course!” she gasped.
“We feel the need! The need for speed!” Tiana laughed.
Zangi nudged Tristian again. He took out a headphone, impatiently.
Zangi pointed to the sign as it was left in the distance. “Can we stop there and race?”
“Please?!” Simi begged.
“Please!” Ravi added.
“It’s not on the schedule,” Tristian said.
“Please Tris?” Tiana begged.
“Don’t call me Tris,” he stated.
“Please Trissy?” Tiana corrected herself.
He put his headphone back in to end the matter. The girls stared out of the window, hoping they were going to stop soon.
Once the conversation was down to a general lull, Ravi looked down at her phone. She scrolled through tourist attractions near to their current position, trying to figure out where they were going.
“Roller derby?” she read out loud, “What’s a roller derby?”
“It’s like a really intense race on roller skates,” Zangi explained.
Ravi held her phone up to show a photo to Zangi. “Is that an ambulance outside?”
“Probably it’s a really dangerous sport,” Zangi said.
“How’d you know?” Tiana asked.
“Remember when Rowena came in to school with bruises down her arms and legs, a black eye, and cuts across her hands, and she said she’d been skating?” Zangi asked.
“She does roller derby?” Simi asked in surprise.
Zangi nodded. Then she hit Tristan. He sighed. They immediately knew the answer. He took out a headphone anyway.
“Can we watch people attack watch other on skates?” Zangi asked hopefully.
“Come on Tristan. You know you want to,” Tiana said.
“Schedule,” Tristan stated.
“What is on the schedule then?” Tiana asked.
“You’ll see when we get –“
“PAINTBALLING!” Ravi shouted.
The girls sat up, alert, urgently.
“You have to let us go paintballing!” Zangi begged.
“They’ll be amazing pictures!” Tiana insisted.
“Please!” Tahati begged.
Tristan glanced in the rear-view mirror, at Tahati. There had been a warning with her. She had anger issue. Or had once had anger issues.
If biting a girl who broke her glasses, throwing hot pasta in the face of a girl who had annoyed her, and punching the girl who had tripped her up in the face, counted as examples of anger issues that is.
Either way it seemed like a good idea not to give her a gun. Of any kind.
“It’s not on the list,” Tristan stated.
Ravi sat forwards, “We’ve been driving for years! Let’s take a break. Please.”
Tristian glanced at her. She battered her mascara caked eyelashes hopefully. He looked back to the road.
The girls fell back in their chairs groaning loudly.
“We have to stick to the schedule,” he repeated.
“We have to stick the schedule somewhere, it just might be uncomfortable for him,” Simi muttered to Ravi.
Ravi chuckled. She rolled her head to stare out of the window again. The joy fell away with the miles; the miles fell away with the hours. They drove nonstop for what felt like a year. At some point, they drove past a forest where people were all dressed up in camouflage outfits, and war paint, with huge laser guns. They were children about their age, aiming guns at each other and screaming with laughter.
Tahati had her head lent against the window in boredom, gazing dreamily at the battle. She could beat the hell out of these girls before they teamed up to beat the crap out of her. Twice. It would be amazing.
Simi picked up her phone. After a second, there was a collection of buzzes and beeps as the others received messages on WhatsApp. One by one they checked their messages, and giggled. Then there was tapping as one of them replied. Then beeps as it was received. Then more chuckling.
Tristian glanced in the mirror as they stopped talking. He watched each of them looking down at their phones, giggling and texting one another on group chat. He glanced over at Zangi, hoping to get a glimpse of the messages. They had to be about him. Zangi moved her hand to make sure he couldn’t see them. Tristian clenched his jaw and stared at the road. They were children. Insignificant children. And they were getting to him with ease.
The texts were about him. Just not in the way he was expecting.
I got a plan
Is it bitchy?
every time we get a text, giggle
cause trissy wont no y we’re laughing
Hell know were laughing @him
it’ll drive him crazy
Im so proud
Long after they stopped texting and got bored, there was silence. Boredom had caused Ravi to doze off against the window. Simi was messing around with her Snapchat filters. Zangi had headphones in, and her feet up on the dashboard, as she watched the world shoot by in front of her. Way in the back, Tiana and Tahati were playing snap with a pack of cards that was missing the two of hearts. They had found it hidden in the pocket attached to the door. In the silence Tristan had time to relax and calm down. As they wheeled around the corner, into a smaller street, he cried out:
“Here we are. The Lee valley water centre!”
The girls looked out of the window in a suspicious hope. They saw water everywhere they looked. Ultra clear, beautifully inviting water. Some of it was still and calm, but some of it was rapid and jolting. People were canoeing, and tubing and surfing, and practicing every type of water activity you can think of. Everyone was active and involved. All of them looked excited or terrified.
Tahati and Tiana shared a look. There was no way this was where they were actually coming. This place looked fun and interesting. As they climbed out of the van, the girls huddled together, suspiciously. Tristian ushered them inside. He carried the camera bag again. All the while he ignored Tiana’s protests about how the camera wasn’t water proof. She was not happy with that.
“Are you sure were supposed to be here?” Simi asked.
While walking through, they noticed the fake beach, and the huge poster advertising the farm connected to the boating centre. Intrigue grew.
“I wanna see a meerkat!” Tahati whined.
“I can’t get my hair wet. Do you know how much effort goes into this look?!” Ravi said.
“My makeup isn’t water proof!” Zangi said.
“No, no, no, were not going on anything. We’re being paid to take photos of others people doing the activities,” Tristian tutted.
The girls stopped dead on the path and stared at him in devastated fury.
“We don’t have time! After this, it’s straight to the natural history museum,” Tristan explained.
“I knew it was too good to be true,” Tahati huffed.
“Does this mean we won’t have time to go to the Celtic camp thing down the road?” Tiana asked.
“Why would we go to that?” Tristian asked.
“I really like Vikings,” she shrugged.
“She was pagan for a while to worship them,” Tahati explained, “Until she remembered she was a heathen.”
“I don’t care,” he said.
“Sorry it’s because you look like my religious teacher. And I don’t like him either,” she shrugged.
Tristan rolled his eyes and ushered them in through the gate. As they walked through the grounds, they looked around in surprise. This center was larger than they expected. Much larger. There were screams of laughter and encouragement from the rafts being tossed about on the rapids. It looked intimidating as they were rocked violently on the surface of the water, but it was just a pool. If anyone fell in, they would be fine. This was indicated by the vast amount of toddlers and young children wandering along the edge, watching the people rafting.
Tristian ushered them along the Olympic water rafting arena, weaving between the spectators and equipment, to the café. There was a lot of outdoor decking to be used as a seating area, and most of the tables were full of people who had come to watch their friends fall into the water.
“Can’t we have a go?” Ravi begged, “A quick one!”
“Please?” Tahati begged.
“There’s no time,” Tristan shook his head.
“Can we push Tahati in?” Simi smirked.
“No!” Tahati yelled.
“No,” Tristian agreed.
“Can we push you in?” Simi muttered, loudly.
“Don’t you dare. You couldn’t anyway. I’m stronger than any of you,” Tristian smirked.
Tristian regretted saying that. Almost immediately Tahati latched onto his arm and tried to drag him towards the water. He barely moved an inch. Zangi whispered into Tiana’s ear. Tiana grinned at her and nodded.
“Tahati, don’t be childish,” Tiana called.
Tahati looked up at her in surprise and confusion. So did Tristian. Tiana walked over to Tahati’s side. As she did, her camera bag bounced off of her hip.
“We’re here to take photos. Just to take photos. Not to raft, or to push the man who’s looking after us into a pool. He’s given up valuable time and energy to ensure we get the most out of this trip. The least we could do is behave,” Tiana explained.
Tristian smiled for the first time. Maybe this wouldn’t be so difficult after all. Little did he know, Zangi was getting into place, on all fours behind him. She gave Tiana a thumbs up when she was ready. Simi and Ravi stifled giggles, grinning readily.
“Anyway, the easiest way to get someone to move is to push them,” Tiana finished.
Tahati waiting for a split second for permission. Tiana grinned. Tahati grinned back. With all her might, she shoved Tristian straight in the chest. Tristian staggered backwards, smacked into Zangi, and was sent flying over the edge of the water. Zangi leapt to her feet as the other girls burst into laughter. They crowded together to try and look innocent. All of them grinned at the edge of the pool, waiting for Tristian to pop up and be furious.
A long while passed them by.
Their smiles began to fade.
Worry began to creep in.
“Is he…” Simi began.
“No,” Tiana said in unconvincing confidence, “no, he’s just waiting to try and scare us.”
They waited for a while longer, hoping he would make an appearance. Zangi licked her lips anxiously.
“Ti, I think we just killed him,” she muttered.
“Bismillah!” Tahati gasped.
“I hope not. He had the van keys,” Ravi said.
After what felt like a dragging few minutes, they decided that someone had to go and check what was going on. Tiana placed her camera bag on the table, and told Tahati to guard it with her life.
Tiana and Zangi crept forward to peer over the edge of the water, carefully. Zangi looked over further than Tiana did. Suddenly she felt a jolt throw her forwards. Zangi yelped. It was all she managed before a cold wave crashed over her head. In a split second decision, Tiana dove straight in after her. The current of the rapids was stronger than they had anticipated.
Tiana latched onto Zangi easily, but they were still being dragged down the course like leaves in a river.
Water crashed over their heads, sometimes dragging them down, and causing them to bob back up. Every desperate gasp for air filled their lungs with water. Crisp, blue, icy water. Fortunately, the cold fused their arms together. Tiana and Zangi were clinging together with one arm, and desperately flailing for the wall with the other.
Zangi’s hand caught a knot, and slipped. She flayed her arm in the same direction, desperately. She latched on. Zangi pulled her head up, and choked up some of the water in her chest after a second, Tiana was by her side, coughing up a lung. Tiana clung to the side. She heaved herself out. Her arms felt like noodles, and she had to roll her legs out after her. As soon as she was out, and grabbed onto Zangi.
Zangi clung to Tiana’s soaking arm. Her feet scrambled against the wall to get herself out. Tiana pulled her the rest of the way.
Once both of them were back on dry land, they gasped for air. Each of them were laying, face up, gasping in all the now colder air around them.
“Thank you… for getting the side,” Tiana whispered.
“Thanks for coming in after me,” Zangi whispered back.
Both of them were now completely drenched, head to toe. As they slowly regained use of their bodies, they slowly began to hear laughter. Not just the laughter of the stag do and cooperate team builders on the rapids they had just escaped, but familiar laughter.
Zangi dragged herself onto her stomach. Only now did she notice that she was missing a shoe. The right one. She cursed under her breath. As the water gushed out of her ears, she realized that the laughter was closer than she anticipated. Zangi raised her head, and was slapped in the face by a soaking curtain of thick black hair. She flipped it out of her face with her arm. When she spotted Tristan, soaked through to the bone, and grinning spitefully at her, she realized what had happened.
She had been pushed.
Zangi nudged Tiana. Tiana groaned.
“Just give me a minute,” she muttered.
“It was him,” Zangi said.
Tiana pulled up her chest like a puppet on a string. She pushed her soaking fringe out of her face, to see her friends giggling. Tiana scowled. She pushed herself to her feet, and staggered over to them. Behind her was a trail of squelching footsteps, and droplets of water. The girls howled louder as she got closer.
Tiana lunged for Ravi, who screeched and dodged out of the way. Simi swore loudly, suddenly realising what was about to happen. Zangi, seeing the way they squirmed, beamed. She quickly came to join in the fun. Between them, Zangi and Tiana were able to catch each of their bone dry friends, and hug them the way the kraken hugs a pirate ship. This left damp patches across their stomachs, arms, chests, and anything else they could splatter water onto.
Since Tahati had the camera, Tiana left her alone. That gave her enough time to get loads of pictures of dripping wet Tristan, Tiana and Zangi, and them chasing the other girls, before getting pictures of Zangi turning on her.
It took a long time (and physical aches from laughing) for Tristan to remember his job. He grabbed Tiana by the wrist as she tried to wriggle past him. She suddenly found herself held back, and yelped in surprise. That stopped the other girls in their tracks.
“What the hell was that?!” Ravi giggled.
“Did you just bark?!” Tahati grinned.
“I always knew you were a dog man!” Simi laughed.
“Nah fam, she’s just a bitch!” Zangi laughed.
Tiana was laughing as she told them to shut up. Tristian cleared his throat to make them quiet down.
“Right. Now I have your attention, we’re going to have to fix this. I’m going inside to see if anyone has a few spare towels. While I’m gone make sure the photos are taken, and are nice. Once you’re all mostly dry, I’ll give you the keys to the van and you can get your clothes and get changed in the toilet. Any questions?” he explained.
Zangi gestured to her soggy sock. “Can you see if anyone has a spare shoe too?”
“Yes. If not, we’ll have to buy you trainers from in town,” Tristian said.
“We have time to go shoe shopping but not to go paintballing? What kind of backwards-ass-” Tiana began.
She was interrupted by an impatient Tristan.
“I’m really beginning to get tired of you constantly trying to undermine me. You may be the photographer, and my job may mean carting you around from place to place, but I am in charge. If you don’t like that, tough. Put up with it, or I’ll have to make your time harder than it needs to be. Is that understood?”
The other girls stared at him. This was the same tone all the teachers used before the class started plotting their revenge. That always meant a few weeks of good behaviour, followed by a massive mess, or breakage, or hack, or explosion, or protest, or barricade, and radio silence on who was to blame.
Tiana gave him the same look she gave Mr Conduit when she fell back into her role of good student, before contacting Ofsted and reporting all the crap he thought he’d gotten away with, and causing a surprise investigation. All the while she held his gaze with a death stare.
“Of course. How dare I criticize a clearly disorganised trip, so blatantly? I apologise,” she spat.
“Will you just take the pictures now?” Tristian asked.
“Can I have my hand back?” Tiana snipped.
Reluctantly, Tristan released Tiana’s arm. She sneered at him, and then turned her back to get her camera from Tahati. Silently, she got on with her work. Tristan trudged inside. All the fun vanished into the rapids again.
As they drove away from the water center, camera full of pictures, hair full of water, boot full of drying clothes, the van filled with tense silence. It was that annoying mix of awkward, and furious. Even the radio couldn’t beat through it. The girls were back to texting. Zangi was even more furious. After they had found someone to fish her shoe out of the rapids, it was too wet to wear. Instead, she had to wear the only shoes they sold.
She was furious. Both of them were on the floor. She simply refused to wear them, and she wasn’t close enough to the window to throw them out anymore. Ravi had taken the chance to take control of the AUX cord. Not that they had much choice, it did belong to her.
They carried on their journey, pissed off, half soaked, and listening to No Scrubs by TLC.
None of them were happy.